How to choose which professors to take

Law students typically are faced with asymmetrical information problems in deciding which classes and professors to take. Of course, students have no choice in first-year courses, but thereafter options exist.  How to choose is a challenge.  Here are my recommendations:

First, ask the advice of more senior students about the professors from whom they've taken classes. Inquire more about what your colleagues learned rather than who they liked personally. While no reviewer is likely perfect, students can aptly distinguish between those professors who are entertaining and those who are capable. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive categories.  Finding teachers who are both capable and entertaining is great, but law school is not supposed to be fun. It's not kindergarten, after all.  So, focus on competence, and be happily surprised if there are entertaining aspects of the class. Be cautious of classes exclusively described as fun, as law school is best understood as challenging and demanding. 

If possible, also seek out the advice of graduates of your law school, as perspective gained through experience is invaluable. The knowledge of alumni generally embodies a broader understanding and contextualization of legal education. 

Second, talk to the professors teaching the classes you're considering. The best professors will give honest appraisals of their abilities and expertise. For example, there are circumstances in which professors are asked to fill open slots for classes that they don't generally teach. That's suboptimal for students. For example, while I've been a long-time teacher of Evidence, I don't teach legal writing. Students would be ill-served by having me teach them that course, as I know I'm simply not a good writing teacher.  That course (amongst several others) requires a special skill set, which I know I don't have. I honestly share this information with students. Even though I'm a long-time educator, and Fulbright Scholar, one need not have this background to know that the best law teachers willingly convey both their strengths and weaknesses.

Third, the ideal professor will have both professional experience in the topic of the class and have published in the area. Sometimes students don't understand the importance of legal scholarship, but on-topic research immeasurably improves teachers' abilities in their classes. The same is for on-topic practice experience, although more is not necessarily better. That is, the theory of diminishing returns clearly applies to practice experience. For example, 25 years of experience in insurance law is not better than five. Indeed, it's likely worse (from a pedagogical perspective), because it's likely five years of experience merely repeated five times.

A particularly useful area of practice experience is serving as a judicial clerk, as lawyers get intense exposure to a wide variety of matters, and they get to see "how the sausage is made." Of course, experiences differ based upon individual judges, but the academy generally aptly values appellate courts above trial-level tribunals because of the breadth and depth of law covered. And, soundly, clerking on the United States Supreme Court is highly prized within the academy.

Fourth, if you've had an excellent teacher, take as many classes with her as you can. As much as you might have a goal for the area in which you want to practice, that often doesn't materialize. And learning to think like a lawyer is far more important than memorizing a snapshot of ever-evolving law or prosaic skills easily acquired or honed in practice.  Noted academic and civil-rights lawyer Charles Black taught me Constitutional Law. Having found him an outstanding educator, I went on to have him teach me admiralty. Although I've never practiced in that area, I learned immensely from that course and have regularly applied that knowledge throughout my career.

Another example of the usefulness of learning big-picture lawyering occurred for me when I was handling a bankruptcy matter in practice, having never taken a bankruptcy course. Since I had taken several business-law courses from teachers focused on teaching doctrinal concepts, I was able to address a novel issue better than several experienced bankruptcy lawyers, because I "thought like a lawyer," while they focused on rote rules.

Finally, if you have an opportunity to take a summer class elsewhere, it's always good to see how different institutions operate. Of course, in doing so, don't forget to still apply as many of the above recommendations as you can.